Wednesday's Letters: The judge who locked me up... and then became my friend

I WAS sad to hear of the death of Judge James Pickles (Yorkshire Post, December 24). He was a most unusual and remarkable man, someone who always did what he thought was right, even when a large section of society considered him to be wrong in many of his pronouncements and controversial sentences he occasionally passed.

I first came into contact with Judge Pickles in the early 1970s, when I was serving as a newly appointed probation officer in Huddersfield. It was the third occasion that I had attended the Crown Court. I had prepared a social inquiry report upon a man from Sheepridge who had been warned pre-sentence that he faced a prison sentence for a charge of "theft of electricity".

The defendant was an unemployed man and the father of three children under the age of five years. Due to being heavily indebted, the family's electric supply had been disconnected for non-payment during a particularly cold winter. The defendant's one-year-old son had contracted a very bad cold and when the defendant couldn't stand his child's coughing a moment longer, he illegally reconnected the electricity supply and was subsequently prosecuted and produced before Judge Pickles.

Prior to sentencing the defendant, Judge Pickles invited me into the witness box so that he might question me about certain observations I had made in my written report to court.

"How can the court help this man to stop offending, Mr Forde?" the judge asked. "Unless the court is able to reconnect his electricity supply, obtain him a job, get his creditors off his back and help him and his family to be rehoused, I'm afraid that the court cannot help him your honour," I replied.

No doubt considering my reply a bit flippant and unacceptable from "an officer of court", Judge Pickles decided that I should spend the remainder of the afternoon in the police cells to reflect upon my contribution to the sentencing process which he considered to border on "contempt".

During my 25 years working in the Huddersfield Courts with the West Yorkshire Probation Service, myself and "His Honour" developed a marked respect for each other and he commended the quality of my reports to court on numerous occasions.

Between 1990 and 2000, I had 32 children's books published and a musical play and over 850 national celebrities read from my books to over 2,000 assemblies in West Yorkshire schools. After Judge Pickles had performed his first reading for me, he enjoyed his experience with the little children so much that he offered to read on a further seven occasions. To see his naturalness with children and to experience his obvious pleasure was to witness a side of this good man that he rarely allowed the wider world to see.

We became friends before he died. So what had started as no doubt "a personality conflict between us" turned out to be the grounds of a sound friendship over many years.

God bless you, James, and I would dearly love to hear the conversation between yourself and St Peter when sentence is passed on you.

From: William Forde, Mirfield, Wakefield.

Let councils pay penalty over dustbins

From: N Bywater, Airedale Terrace, Morley, Leeds.

PHILIP Hammond, the Transport Secretary, has said that it was unacceptable that the British Airports Authority would face no punishment under the current system for the recent chaos at the snow-bound Heathrow Airport (Yorkshire Post, December 27).

He said there should be an "economic penalty for the service failure". What a shame that the ex-Bradford councillor Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, does not share the same sense of injustice.

If our council, or even the workers themselves, suffered an "economic penalty for the service failure", would we have such poor bin service?

Neil Evans, Leeds City Council's environmental and neighbourhoods director, asked taxpayers to be patient. But with the massive number of people in the Leeds area who are saying that their collections have been missed, Leeds Council must have saved millions, yet they say the savings are not as much as expected.

So, instead of insults from Eric Pickles towards the councillors, calling council leaders in Leeds and Wakefield "negligent" and "stupid", perhaps we need to see some action from the Minister for Communities and Local Government.

From: Peter J Brown, Connaught Road, Middlesbrough.

FORTY five years ago, in the winter of 1965-66, severe weather started earlier in mid-November 1965. Like this year, the 1965 Christmas Eve fell on Friday and Christmas Day on Saturday.

The month of November had a few more days to run when heavy snows over the North York Moors made it impossible for school children living in Goathland to be transported home by road from schools in Whitby.

What is now the North York Moors Railway had closed to passenger traffic in March 1965, but a special train needed to be put on from Whitby over the closed railway to bring children back home from school to Goathland.

I have reason to remember that prolonged spell of severe weather that lasted from mid-November until mid-December because I was a boy of 12 at a special boarding school on the outskirts of Newcastle and for about four weekends I only made it home to Teesside over very icy roads by the skin of my teeth.

The spell of severe weather came to an end just over a week before Christmas.

New Year's Day 1966 seemed sunny and mild for the time of year. General winter did make some very brief visits in early 1966 – but nothing so prolonged as in the earlier period.

It is perhaps naive and fanciful for me to wish for a mild New Year.

Greed from car insurers

From D Birch, Smith Lane, Cookridge, Leeds.

IF you own a car and have it comprehensively insured, new or old, make sure you check you renewal insurance fully and don't renew it until you have checked it thoroughly to see how much you will be paying and what you are paying for. The insurance companies have gone mad and greedier and it's all legal, because, of course, it is mandatory that you and every driver – young and old – has, by law, to have car insurance.

I am in the process of renewing mine on a new small car – a run of the mill hatchback bought in July 2009 with maximum no claims bonus (nine years plus) with an average mileage of less than 5,000 a year. I tick all the boxes of what they and I need to keep the cost of a reasonable level of security and care of the car.

I did get a fairly good price in the change of car for part of 2009 and a good acceptable price in 2009/10, but my renewal for January 2011/12 has an increase in price of around 33 per cent, now 415.30.

I thought I would ring round to see what other people are going to charge for exactly the same cover. Three other insurers catering for the elderly have priced my new insurance with a 200 per cent-plus increase.

It's an unbelievable situation in a period when the UK is at stagnation point and people are trying their best to get by and live with all the changes being made. It's pure greed from the insurance companies and nothing else.

They are worse than the banks, and the Government should step in and raise their tax levels substantially to stop them. The levels they are now fixing will not come down in the future. They are emulating gas and electric power suppliers. They raised their levels and we have been stuck with them since.

It's time for the Government to check the position in law that gives them the right to charge what they want. They should have to give a user the current value of their car instead of the mythical percentage discount of an unknown figure that they appear to use at the moment.

At this time, and for as long as I can remember, they just hold motorists to ransom – and it's all legal.

Overweight children

From: Dr Hilary Andrews, Nursery Lane, Leeds.

THERE is general concern about the rise in obesity in young children and the fear that they may well die before their parents. May I suggest that we re-introduce school medicals at the ages of five, 11 and 16?

These were attended by the parents who could then discuss with the doctor the way to handle the problem.

The present method of sending a body mass index (BMI )result to the family is not helpful as it does not accurately reflect the fitness of a child. Any child truly overweight was followed up by the school nurse and encouraged to do more activity and eat less junk.

It seemed to work and is certainly cheaper than treating young children with heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Uncertain outlook for the state of independents

From: David McKenna, Hall Gardens, Rawcliffe, Goole.

LIVING in the East Riding, it was a great relief to read the political pitch launched by Peter Hemmerman on behalf of the East Yorkshire Independents (Yorkshire Post, December 23).

However, it is always easy to criticise the authorities when they are outsmarted by the weather and again, it is always easy to say what an alternative administration would do in similar or other circumstances.

I believe that many members of a couple of political parties are struggling with that one at the moment.

I am not sure, however, if the council tax payers of the East Riding, already one of the highest charges in the country, would welcome another hike so that "suitable snow and ice cleaning equipment" could be purchased as Mr Hemmerman suggests.

As far as I am aware, some of these smaller pieces of equipment could have been purchased out of the "golden goodbye" given to an East Riding Officer not so long ago.

I am also uncertain as to what Mr Hemmerman alludes when he mentions that "we are not controlled by the Westminster establishment" since, eventually we all are to some degree or another.

I applaud Mr Hemmerman for his courage in launching the Independents' campaign, but would caution him to beware of what he wishes for and to remember one of our earlier "fathers of the nation" who came unstuck in spectacular fashion on that one.

Punishment for murderers

From: Terry Morrell, Prunus Avenue, Willerby.

BARRIE Frost (Yorkshire Post, December 24) identifies the situation regarding Stephen Griffiths exactly. Imprisoning this animal for the rest of his natural life is no different from executing him.

Although the death penalty should be viewed with considerable caution, there has to be a case for exterminating certain killers, and this self-styled "crossbow cannibal" certainly fits the bill.

We need a legal review of the various degrees of "murder" and their relevant punishments.

Start the cull of these MPs

From: Dai Woosnam, Woodrow Park, Grimsby.

SO, Vince Cable thinks that two journalists, masquerading as constituents, have brought their profession into disrepute?

Not half as much as the rest of us think that Cable and some of his more venal colleagues have brought Parliament into disrepute by masquerading as public servants.

When is Mr Cameron going to keep his word, and start culling MPs?

First class

From: Arthur Quarmby. Underhill, Holme, Holmfirth.

IS it not singularly poignant that in these, the dying days of the postal service as we have known it, the current postage stamp (the simple one with the Queen's head) is without doubt the most beautiful stamp ever created?

End of play

From: Terry Duncan, Greame Road, Bridlington.

DID someone forget to inform the Queen that hundreds of English schools lost their playing fields when Labour was in power, so that they could be used for development sites?